Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday (January 24th) we began a new Sunday school class for all ages in the sanctuary at 9:15-10:15 am. We are using a video series called He Gave Us Prophets, combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. The subtopics of each of the lessons are: (1) essential hermeneutical perspectives, (2) a prophet’s job, (3) people of the covenant, (4) dynamics of the covenant, (5) historical analysis of prophecy, (6) literary analysis of the prophets, (7) the purpose of predictions, and (8) unfolding eschatology. At the end of our lessons, we will conclude by applying what we have learned with a study of Zechariah chapter 14.
If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons, you find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP.
In our first lesson this past Sunday, we learned about some of the confusion that arises from trying to understand the prophets, as well as how we ought to approach the prophets with a right “hermeneutical perspective.” A “hermeneutic” is simply the method or theory of interpretation with which a person seeks to interpret the Bible or any literary text.
A Prophets Experience: So, we learned about how God used the personalities of each of the prophets of the Old Testament and inspired them to write the Word of God. Instead of a mechanical understanding of the inspiration of Scripture (the idea that the prophets were ‘out of their minds’ and simply took dictation from the Lord), we see that the inspiration of Scripture is organic (the Holy Spirit inspired those who wrote His Word, while using their innate faculties and personalities to write the Scriptures).
Original Meaning: We also learned about proper exegesis, specifically the “grammatico-historical” method of interpretation. Unfortunately, many people interpret the Scriptures, and especially the writings of the prophets in an atomistic and ahistorical fashion. Atomistic interpretation refers to how one would seek to interpret a verse or phrase without considering the surrounding context; however, if we wish to interpret the Scriptures aright, we must understand its place amidst the ‘grammar’ or literary context of the whole. Ahistorical interpretation refers to how one would seek to interpret a part of Scripture without considering the historical context; however, if we wish to interpret the Scriptures aright, we must understand the author, his original audience, and what was going on at the time of his writing.
New Testament Perspective: Finally, we learned about how we ought to follow Jesus and the writers of the New Testament in the ways that they interpreted and applied the writings of the prophets. Even as sin had wreaked havoc in the world and the people of God had become so corrupted that the Lord sent them into exile, the prophets looked forward to a time when God would set things straight. They spoke of the future “day of the Lord” or “the latter days” when God would intervene in the world and bring all things to their final, glorious end. The writers of the New Testament take up this theme and speak of how Jesus Christ fulfills these expectations in three phases.
The Three Phases of God’s Kingdom
The prophet Isaiah writes of how the government of God’s people will rest upon the shoulders of the coming Messiah; there will be no end to the increase of His government and peace as He sits on the throne of David and over His kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7). For the prophets, they mostly saw this as a future singular event; however, through the fullness of revelation through the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2), the New Testament teaches us that the kingdom of God is established in three phases: the inauguration of God’s kingdom, the continuation of God’s kingdom, and the consummation of God’s kingdom.
The Inauguration of God’s Kingdom: The inauguration of God’s kingdom simply means that at Jesus’ first coming, He brought God’s kingdom to this world. Mark summarizes the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry with reference this inauguration; after returning from forty days in the wilderness, Jesus began preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And, in His earthly ministry and through His death on the cross, Jesus conquered sin and death and the devil (Hebrews 2:14-15). At His first coming, Jesus rendered the devil powerless and bound Him (Matthew 12:22-29; Revelation 20:2-3) in order that He might rescue the lost.
The Continuation of God’s Kingdom: Presently, we live in the continuation of God’s kingdom in which God’s kingdom continues to come and grow (even as we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:10) through the proclamation of the gospel and individuals are made citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). As Christ goes before us, we are called to put on the full of armor of God and stand firm against the schemes of the devil, the rulers, powers, the world forces of darkness, and the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:11-24). For Christ has promised that he will build His church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Matthew 16:18).
The Consummation of God’s Kingdom: At His second coming, when Christ returns, He will bring about the consummation of His kingdom. He will come in judgment (Revelation 19:11-16), but also for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Hebrews 9:28). He will bring the fullness of God’s kingdom in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1) where righteous dwells (2 Peter 3:13) and there will be no more death and no more mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:3-4). And when Christ returns for His church, we will be made like Him because we shall see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12-13; 1 John 3:2).
The Parables of the Kingdom (Matthew 13)
One of the most instructive parts of Scripture that speaks to this three-phased coming of the kingdom of God (inauguration, continuation, consummation) is Jesus’ parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13. In Jesus’ discourse recorded in Matthew 13, He presents seven parables:
13:3-9; 18-23 (The Parable of the Sower)
13:24-30; 36-43 (The Parable of the Tares)
13:31-32 (The Parable of the Mustard Seed)
13:33 (The Parable of the Leaven)
13:44 (The Parable of Treasure Hidden in the Field)
13:45-46 (The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value)
13:47-50 (The Parable of the Dragnet)
In each of these parables, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven (or kingdom of God) by way of illustration. Each parable emphasizes something different: (The Parable of the Sower) – many people fall short and do not benefit from the word of the gospel; (The Parables of the Tares & the Dragnet) – how believers and unbelievers will be mixed in the kingdom until the end; (The Parables of the Mustard Seed & the Leaven) – these emphasize the extensive growth of the kingdom of God from small beginnings; (The Parables of Treasure Hidden in the Field & Pearl of Great Price) – the emphasis is upon the value of the kingdom of God.
However, most all of these parables that Jesus employs to describe the kingdom contain these three phases: inauguration, continuation, and consummation. For example, in “the parable of the sower,” Jesus reveals that there is a beginning (sowing), a middle (growth), and an end (reaping). Thus, the kingdom of God is not set forth as something that is stagnant or comes all at once. Rather, Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God at His first coming and He will bring the kingdom of God in all its fullness at His second coming. We who live in this in-between time live during the continuation (or growth) of the kingdom of God; His reign and realm expands (though mixed) through the ministry of His Church.
Hopefully, it is plain to see that this proper understanding of the coming of the kingdom of God helps us to better understand and apply God’s Word and how it is key to understanding and applying the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament. By way of a final application, Anthony Hoekema summarizes very nicely how this understanding of the three phases of the coming of God’s kingdom shapes our understanding of who we are as God’s people, living between Jesus’ first and second coming:
The fact that the kingdom of God is present in one sense and future in another implies that there remains a certain tension between these two aspects. We can describe this tension in two ways: (1) The church must live with a sense of urgency, realizing that the end of history as we know it may be very near, but at the same time it must continue to plan and work for a future on this present earth which may last a long time. (2) The church is caught up in the tension between the present age and the age to come. (Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p 52).
I hope you will join us on Sunday mornings at 9:15 am as we continue these lessons on how to better understand the prophets of the Old Testament.
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch